Rhode Island puts water data online

Rhode Island, which has been monitoring the water quality of its beaches for years, is now making that data available through a Web site, along with other information of interest to beach visitors.

The Rhode Island Health Department requires every licensed beach to sample its water and bring the sample to a lab to get analyzed for bacteria. Any sample that exceeds state standards is considered unsafe for swimmers.

That information will now be able on the department's beach Web site, along with advisories on water-born illness, beach closures and openings, and locations. The site also provides forms through which people can report suspected beach-related illnesses online.

The Health Department has had a beach information Web site up since 1999, but until this year, it contained information on only 23 sites where monitoring was funded through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) program.

Before 1999, each of the state's towns and cities with beaches in their jurisdiction was required to sample conditions and report its findings to the department, but there was no requirement to provide the public with information.

"At that time we didn't even have anyone to work on beach issues fulltime," said Michelle Freestone, Rhode Island's bathing water planner. "That only happened after we got federal funding" to run the EMPACT program.

As well as information on current conditions at the beaches, Web site visitors (www.healthri.org/beaches/index.html) can get historical information as far back as 1994. The site includes information on the importance of water quality monitoring, current standards, sampling methods and monitoring frequencies. It also has a section on swimming-related illnesses, their causes and what precautionary measures to take.

The online illness reporting should prove of particular benefit, Freestone said, since it allows the department to keep the information in one database, which it can then use that to pinpoint things about various sites that it couldn't before.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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